By Grigor Hakobyan
Despite the fact that joint military training between Azerbaijani and Turkish forces has officially ended, large accumulations of military personnel and equipment in Nakhijevan continues unabated. Presently about 20,000 Azerbaijani soldiers and more than five hundred pieces of military equipment are positioned in an area of 2,100 sq. miles at a distance of nearly 60km from Yerevan. The long-range capabilities of military hardware in question present a direct and immediate danger to the security of Armenia and must be immediately neutralized. Hesitation on the part of Armenian military establishment to address the threat as soon as possible may have significantly negative consequences for Armenia’s security later on. The longer it takes for Armenia to respond the more severe will be the consequences of such belated defense actions.
Oldest human artifacts found in this area are dated back to Neolithic Period (6000 B.C.E. – 4000 B.C.E.) Historically Nakhijevan was part of various Armenian kingdoms for more than few thousand years. In 860 B.C. E. Nakhijevan was part of an Armenian kingdom called Ararat (also known as Aratta or Urartu). At different time periods, it fell under foreign occupation of Persians, Turks, Arabs and Russians. In Armenian name Nakhijevan means “first” or “prior settlement” as it refers to Biblical flood which led Noah’s ark to land on Mt. Ararat and resume human habitation at the foot of the mountain presently referred to as Ararat Valley. Geographically Nakhijevan makes up part of Armenia’s Ararat Valley. In 1918 Nakhijevan was part of the independent Republic of Armenia. In 1920 Azerbaijan recognized Artsakh and Nakhijevan as part of Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. According to 1921 Treaty of Kars which overrode the Treaty of Severs of 1918 (signed between Armenia and Turkey recognizing both Nakhijevan and Artsakh as part of independent Republic of Armenia), Nakhijevan became a Turkish protectorate under Azerbaijani administrative control. At that time, the Armenians made up nearly half of Nakhijevan’s population which presently stands at over 400,000 people.
The goal of the Bolsheviks was to win Turkey over to its side and use it as a springboard for spreading communist ideas in the Middle East. However, Turkey’s joining of NATO in 1952 put an end to communist illusions toward Turkey. With the collapse of the former Soviet Union the Treaty of Kars has been constantly renewed by Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan in secret as the treaty was not meant to be permanent and had a specific expiration date. As a result of administrative policies carried out by Azerbaijani government throughout the ex-Soviet period followed by massacres of Armenians in Baku, Sumgait, Kirovabad, etc., Nakhijevan got depopulated of Armenians by 1988-1989. Emptying Nakhijevan of Armenians didn’t even stop there as the destruction of Armenian churches and other monuments continued full throttle. In 2005 in a widely documented incident hundreds of Azerbaijani soldiers destroyed thousands of Armenian cultural monuments (khachkars-cross stones) put under UNESCO protection in Jugha thus erasing the remaining traces of Armenian presence in Nakhijevan.
Presently Azerbaijan has stationed over 20,000 troops and hundreds of pieces of military hardware, including combat aircrafts and mobile artillery units such as Russian made Smerch and Turkish made T-300 Kasirga, and T-122 Sakarya multiple-launch rocket systems which are fully capable of reaching Yerevan and other densely populated towns and villages in the Republic of Armenia. The situation is further complicated with the presence of Turkish armed forces in the area which is arguably a clear violation of the Kars Treaty that didn’t envision the stationing of Turkish troops in Nakhijevan. If this line of thinking is continued it could be argued that the Kars Treaty is no longer valid thus the preceding treaty, the Treaty of Severs is now in effect. Therefore, according to the Treaty of Severs Azerbaijani-Turkish forces have illegally occupied the Armenian territory and it is within the right of Armenian people to expel the enemy from its soil. The presence of Turkish troops in Nakhijevan is an act of war against Armenia and should be quickly countered as such. Subsequently, if diplomatic means of resolving this issue are no longer working, it is the right of Armenian people to defend itself against the external aggression that it is presently subjected by Turkey and Azerbaijan.
High concentration of Azerbaijani-Turkish troops and military hardware in Nakhijevan presents a clear and present danger to the security of Armenia. Considering that presently there is no active military confrontation of significant nature going on between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces along the Nakhijevan’s Line of Contact the accumulation of troops and military hardware in Nakhijevan is nothing else but preparation for an attack against the Republic of Armenia from Nakhijevan’s direction. In most likelihood, such an attack will take place in conjunction with a similar intrusion against Armenian positions along the Line of Contact in Artsakh. Last year’s Four Day War in Artsakh has shown that Azerbaijani military is incapable of staging a successful blitzkrieg against Armenian positions in Artsakh. On the other hand, a two-prong military campaign (including an attack from Nakhijevani direction) against Armenian forces was never tried before and therefore Azerbaijani military feels tempted to do so. They are most likely under impression that Armenian forces will not be able to fight on two fronts at the same time. Concurrently they do not anticipate an active involvement of Russian forces in defense of Armenia having recently purchases billions of dollars’ worth of heavy weaponry and long-range strike systems from Russia.
The presence of such a large number of Azerbaijani-Turkish troops and military hardware in Nakhijevan threatens Armenian transportation routs of strategic significance such as the Yerevan-Stepanakert road artery and present North-South highway connecting Armenia to Iran via Meghri border checkpoint. The continued presence of this contingent in Nakhijevan will also threaten the envisioned construction of Iran-Armenia railroad and future gas and oil pipelines meant to connect the hydro-carbon resources of Iran and other suppliers in the Middle East with European markets via Armenia and Georgia thus breaking the Russian monopoly of energy supplies to EU. It is reasonable to argue that failure to implement this type of projects will be in favor of Russia’s oil and gas monopolies, therefore it will be in their interest to see the destabilization of the situation in and around Nakhijevan as a means of pressuring Armenia not to consider such projects at all. Previous attempts by Armenia and Iran to plan implementing such projects, including construction of Iranian oil refineries in Armenia, have failed at the discussion stage under heavy pressure from Russia.
Many Armenian political analysts argue that the presence of Russian military contingent in Gyumri and Erebuni, united air defense network and Armenian membership in Russian led CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) will deter Azerbaijan from utilizing Nakhijevan as a springboard of military aggression against Armenia and in case of war will come to aid of Armenia; however, they fail to take into account that such an escalation may be beneficial for certain circles within the Russian government who are directly or very closely associated with country’s oil and gas industry. They also fail to take into account the Russian military industrial complex that stands to benefit greatly from another round of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan as billion-dollar contracts for additional supplies of weapons and ammunition will quickly follow just as it happened after the Four Day War in April of 2016.
Geopolitically, getting Armenia into another war with Azerbaijan where Russian support may be critical for Armenia in defeating Azerbaijani-Turkish forces will be used as a means of political pressure against Armenia to stop its closer association with the West and do not take part in development of closer ties with Iran that has the potential to undermine Russian oil and gas monopoly in the EU. Considering the options Armenia has few choices on the table. One of them is to toe the Russian line of thinking while trying to derive some benefits from its closer association with Russia. Second choice is to continue developing closer relations with the West despite Russian pressures against it. Finally the third option is to eliminate corruption in Armenia, unify all Armenians across the globe by engaging Armenian diaspora in all aspects of country’s governance and security, significantly reduce emigration and make every effort to encourage repatriation of Armenian brains and capital back to Armenia to grow and innovate its economy and governance to build a stronger Armenia.